ATHENS, Greece — Questionable information and online content are everywhere. Even here, in the cradle of democracy.
The challenges facing media outlets around the world are numerous, including widespread public distrust, dubious claims spreading virally on social media, and a broken business model for the news industry. But while these problems are common in many countries, they seem particularly serious in Greece.
A survey of the Greek population conducted by George Siakas of the University of Macedonia found that a large majority of respondents – 74% – trusted Greek journalists either “only a little” or “not at all”.
The same survey also found that less than a third of respondents believed the public should have to pay for the journalistic content they consume, which would hinder efforts to provide more professionalized journalism. And 92% believe that Greek journalists are too dependent on the government or political parties.
The results were published in early October conference in Athens to which PolitiFact was invited.
Such attitudes are significantly stronger in Greece than in other countries, according to a separate study presented at the Athens conference by Antonis Kalogeropoulos, a lecturer in communications and media at the University of Liverpool and a research associate at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford.
In Greece, only 27% of respondents said they trust the media most of the time, giving it the second lowest score among the 24 European countries surveyed. It was also lower than in all but two of the 22 countries surveyed in Africa, Asia and the Americas.
The United States is one of the few countries to rank below Greece, with a score of 26%.
Greece is the only one of ten advanced industrialized countries surveyed in which respondents said social media does a better job of separating fact from fiction than traditional media. Certainly, neither type of media performed well: 28% of respondents in Greece said social media does a good job of separating fact from fiction, while 19% said the same. traditional media.
Compared to northern and western European countries where trust in institutions is higher, “we come from a different place,” said Stelios Pournis, a journalist for the Greek fact-checking site. Ellinika-Hoaxes.
Conversations with journalists in Athens highlight several factors that make the lack of trust in journalism an unusually serious problem in Greece.
One of them is the Greek economic and debt crisis, which began in 2009 and led to cover-ups and broken promises from the government. “The majority of the Greek population has suffered and continues to suffer” from the economic crisis, said Anna-Kynthia Bousdoukou, co-founder and executive director of the non-profit journalism organization iMEdD (Incubator for Media Education and Development). , who organized the Athens conference. “They felt like people had lied to them – it was a huge trauma. They have lost any trust they had in the media and politicians.”
Recently, revelations that the government wiretapped journalists as well as members of other political parties have heightened public concerns about trust, journalists here said.
Yet at the same time, many Greeks believe the media is too close to the government. This sentiment is reinforced by the close ties between media barons and political leaders, as well as the media industry’s growing reliance on public advertising to pay its bills.
“The government has an organized plan for government advertising, favoring or excluding the media, so as not to face strong criticism over any claim,” said Manos Horianopoulos, the website’s editorial director. News247.gr. “Due to the years of economic crisis, the media often lack the power to resist the wishes of the government.”
Katerina Lomvardea, the editor-in-chief of Inside Story, a Greek-language digital news magazine focused on investigative and explanatory journalism, agrees. “Greeks will always find a reason to distrust anyone, and truth be told, many Greek media outlets have done their best to amplify this trend,” she said.
Research carried out by Siakas, from the University of Macedonia, confirms that not only the Greek public, but also Greek journalists, have a low opinion of the profession.
When a sample of Greek journalists were asked whether they thought their colleagues’ journalistic work was “commendable,” 58% somewhat or strongly disagreed. Nearly two-thirds of journalists surveyed said their superiors misrepresented their work at least some of the time.
At the same time, 80% of journalists surveyed said they self-censor at least some of the time. And more than 90 percent of journalists said Greek media were too dependent on the government or political parties, essentially putting them in tune with the general public’s opinion.
A torrent of disinformation has flowed into this void, say Greek journalists.
Alexis Papahelas, editor-in-chief of Kathimerini, a prestigious Athens newspaper, said disinformation is “a big problem.” Conspiracy theories, particularly regarding coronavirus vaccines, were extremely widespread. There are specialized media in this area and, unfortunately, traditional media or civil society react very little.”
Spyridoula Markou, a journalist for the fact-checking site Ellinika-Hoaxes, said that even social media posts regarding QAnon – which appears to be a uniquely American phenomenon centered on Donald Trump and his supposed enemies – have become popular in Greece, alongside debunked claims that former first lady Michelle Obama is a man. Long-standing tensions between Greece and Turkey have also accelerated misinformation online, she said.
“It has become easy to promote messages like this here in Greece,” Markou said.
Until now, traditional media outlets have not invested in fact-checking efforts consistently. Yet a variety of new outlets have flourished here, including partnerships between journalists, academics and non-governmental organizations.
One is Check4Facts.grwhich was commissioned in June 2022. Several groups collaborated on the project, including the National Center for Social Research, the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens and the Athena Research Institute, with funding from the Hellenic Foundation for research and innovation.
The site began by fact-checking claims on two topics, immigration and crime, which have been major problems in Greece for several years following an influx of refugees from the Middle East. In the coming months, the site plans to add coverage on health and climate change. Made up of a mix of journalists and academic researchers, the site characterizes the claims as “accurate,” “relatively accurate,” “relatively inaccurate,” “inexact” and “unverifiable.”
Ellinika-Hoaxes is part of the International Fact-Checking Network and is a partner of Meta’s Facebook Fact-Checking Program. (PolitiFact also partners with the company’s independent fact-checking program.) With seven fact-checkers and a half-dozen other employees, Ellinika-Hoaxes publishes about 40 to 50 fact-checks per month.
A third site should be launched in the coming months, ahead of the presidential election in June 2023: Politikometro.gr, which translates as “political counter”. The site aims to enforce campaign promise counters developed by PolitiFact to the Greek government.
Three Athens-based journalists – Achilleas Karadimitriou, Vicky Gerasimou and Vagelis Georgiou – rushed to analyze 443 promises made by the current government as “implemented”, “partially implemented”, “ongoing”, “ pending” or “cancelled”. »
“In Greece it is very easy to say that the government makes promises but does not implement them, but this complaint has been expressed vaguely,” Karadimitriou said. “Through this project, we hope to clarify this vagueness.”
Such efforts give hope to iMEdD’s Bousdoukou, whose organization aims to create a collaborative community of Greek journalists, focused on training and sharing best practices.
“We have new initiatives in Greece from non-profit organizations, and this at least gives me, as a citizen and a journalist, hope for our future,” she said.